Has gender equality in our current society progressed to embrace gender neutrality? Does that mean that we are okay to raise a next generation of girlish boys and tom-boyish girls, asks Bindu Tobby

I’ve always taken pride in my truck-driver like driving skills. It was, however, with a sense of disbelief and irritation that I saw this young lady whiz past me the other day, skilfully putting her indicator, brake and accelerator to good use. “So unladylike!” I muttered under my breath.

Do we find it a tad bit unappealing, even inconsistent with our belief systems when we see a woman squatting on a road with a jack in hand hauling up a flat tire? Don’t we reprimand our girls when they screech and roughhouse and tell our boys that only girls cry? And if yes, is the baggage of gender stereotyping that we’ve been carrying with us truly baggage or conventional collective wisdom that we should gracefully accept?

Says Tessy Bose, a mom of teenagers: “I totally believe in gender neutrality and I make sure that the same message is driven home with both my kids. My son does not get added privileges and my daughter is not treated like a ‘princess’ . What I try to imbibe in my children is the need to be individually and collectively responsible, to oneself, to each other – as siblings, children, friends, to the family and to the society. Both my son and daughter make their beds, clean their rooms, help me with cooking sometimes or clean the house. If they need to go for a party which we as parents approve of, the deadlines are the same for both. They both play tennis and go for swimming classes and I have not found the need to weigh in and curb or control either one of their routines or extra-curricular activities purely on account of gender!”

“My husband and me totally endorse gender neutrality. We don’t subscribe to all the brouhaha over women’s day,” says Sahana Gupta who works with an MNC. “By creating a day especially for women, we are propagating the theory that women continue to be the weaker sex and need to be given that fillip to laud their efforts in having overcome the obstacles of patriarchy and sexism at various levels and forms. Though my current life situation can permit such thinking, I really don’t know if it would change if we become parents – would we be okay with our son learning ballet or our daughter taking up rafting or trekking – that only time would tell!”

Adding a philosophical twist is Fr. Ittoop Panikulam SVD, who runs Gyan Ashram, a meditation and counselling centre in Andheri, Mumbai and who has spent more than four decades in familial and marital counselling. “My belief is that the ultimate want of a human heart is true inner joy. The path towards that end is love. Love comes in two forms - in a feminine or masculine way. Masculine is an external way of passing on love: I will protect and take care of you. I will be faithful and do my best that you are secure. The feminine love comes from within, it’s a love that nurtures and nourishes. Human loveshould be given and received in true interior freedom. Roles are to be happily, freely, knowingly and willingly chosen; not imposed upon. What happens in the course of time is that the outsiders impose roles and belief systems and every one obeys to receive society’s acceptance and recognition.

“Just like a child wants to belong to a family, a family wants to belong to the society.”

Limitless

Are we as a generation elbowing the conventional envelope that defined gender roles?

By stereotyping roles for boys and girls, were we confining girls to being meek and helpless and boys into assuming the protector and provider roles?

Are we all now going to do away with the genderspecific lines?